31 August 2013

Putting on the Ritz

No pics, not even for a decent writeup. These people are so tiresomely wary of Copyright.

Top Hat was a last minute decision. Kenny Wheeler cancelled at short notice at Pizza Express; he’s not a young man now and was taken ill. I took Megan and Mum the Aldwych Theatre to see a musical and realised this was the Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers movie with music by Irving Berlin. So I decided I should attend just one musical in London and glad I did. My seats were last minute and in the Grand Circle which is so high it even has its own entrance. But the view was perfectly good, and maybe even better for the dance numbers, where you can view the whole ensemble with ease, like watching footie on TV. From the luxurious overture with snippets of a string of great songs and the first ensemble tap dance number I was entranced. London musicals are seriously well done and this is from the American songbook era of great tunes and real skills. Admittedly the story was flimsy but it was amusing (“1935 screwball comedy musical” / Wikipedia), as the female love interest (Dale Tremont) mistakes her male lover (Jerry Travers) for the wife of a friend. There were occasional clever quips (“Is there no beginning to your brilliance?” or the lesser “A man is incomplete until he’s married … then he’s finished”) and lots of others. There are English caricatures in Belgravia, and Italian caricatures when the action moves too Venice. There’s a standard range of corny and presentable characters: the spendthrift wife who ridicules her husband; the hot blooded Italian couturier who almost marries Dale; the harried rich husband; the not-really-obsequious man-servant. There’s a plot twist at the end to resolve it all. But mostly there was that fabulous tap (once some soft-shoe) and strong musical theatre singing over those great tunes. Gavin Lee (Jerry Travers / Fred Astaire) was great all round, strong even voice, impressive dancing, convincing character and stamina. Kristen Beth Williams (Dale Tremont / Ginger Rogers) was great too, if a bit less even in voice. But I can only admire her performance. As she says in the text and I’ve always thought about women I musical theatre, “I danced everything you did, but backwards in heels”. The other main characters weren’t dance / song stars, but did their jobs well, as did the strong chorus. As I luxuriated in the final chorus, I realised just how well intoned was the whoel chorus while they were dancing. These guys have truly impressive chops. Clive Hayward (Horace Hardwick), Vivien Parry (Madge Hardwick), Russell-Leighton Dixon (Alberto Beddini), and Stephen Boswell (Bates). Irving Berlin / Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers and performed on the London stage. It’s a period piece, but really quite fabulous. Somewhat like a lot of jazz, actually.

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